Vice President Mike Pence broke a 50-50 tie Tuesday to keep Senate Republicans’ hopes of health care reform alive.
Under pressure from President Donald Trump, and a looming August recess, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will now try to move a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare through the Senate.
It’s not clear which version of the legislation will come up for a vote, part of the reason why McConnell and other Republican leaders have had trouble lining up support for their latest attempt to reform health care.
Though debate is moving forward, the atmosphere is still ripe for tight votes, with a majority of just 52 politically diverse Republican senators. (Republicans can only afford to lose two votes, part of the reason they flew in Sen. John McCain days after he announced he had brain cancer.)
The Senate balance of power ebbs and flows between large and small majorities. But tie votes are rare: Vice presidents Joe Biden and Dan Quayle served a combined 12 years and never saw a single one.
For context, here are some other notable squeakers in modern Senate history:
The Affordable Care Act: Senate Democrats needed 60 votes and, at the time, had exactly 60 Democratic senators. The health care law that still dominates debate squeaked by thanks to a unanimous Democratic vote in a dramatic Christmas Eve vote in 2009.
Nomination of Betsy Devos: Several of President Trump’s nominees drew opposition and debate, but the vote to confirm Education Secretary Betsy Devos was the closest. She was confirmed 51-50, thanks to a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.
The Clinton taxes and deficit reduction plan: President Bill Clinton’s first budget was ambitious. It tackled the growing federal deficit in part by raising taxes on upper-class Americans (individuals earning over $115,000). The package is still debated but is credited with sharply reducing the deficit. It passed after Vice President Al Gore voted to break a Senate tie.
The Bush Tax Cuts: President George W. Bush helped guide through two large packages of tax cuts. The second of these, the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act, cut upper and middle class tax rates as well as investment (capital gain) taxes. But it nearly died in the Senate. It took Vice President Dick Cheney to break a tie on the final conference report to make those cuts law.
The 1974 New Hampshire Senate seat battle: The chamber essentially deadlocked on what to do about the closest Senate race in U.S. history. The 1974 New Hampshire race sparked two recounts and a final tally of 110,926 for the Republican to 110,924 for the Democrat. (Yes, that’s a two-vote margin.) The Senate Rules Committee was tied 4-4 over how to resolve this. Ultimately, the full Senate also had trouble acting and the two candidates agreed to a revote, which Democrat John Durkin won.